Curry from discarded okara to solve food waste

Courtesy of Komei Medoruma
Baton Curry Okara Keema served on rice

A man in Kokubunji, Tokyo, developed prepackaged curry using okara soy pulp, which is usually discarded in the process of tofu production. Komei Medoruma, 30, says he is trying to address food waste.

The product’s name, Baton Curry Okara Keema, represents Medoruma’s wish to help solve the food-waste problem with others and pass the baton to future generations.

Medoruma hails from Okinawa Prefecture and studied food economics at the Tokyo University of Agriculture. He then worked for an agricultural startup in Tokyo, and from 2018 he organized events to encourage people to effectively use unused foods in Kokubunji.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Komei Medoruma shows his prepackaged Baton Curry Okara Keema.

“I started to think more deeply about the issue of food waste through my experiences in food-related studies and work,” Medoruma said.

He quit the company last year and started an online shopping website that sells curries from across the nation. When participating in a seminar held by a financial institution, he learned that a tofu shop called “Tofu-dokoro Mikawaya” in Hino, Tokyo, had to discard a large amount of okara soy pulp.

Wondering if he could use the discarded okara, Medoruma came up with the idea of including it in prepackaged curry that can be easily heated up in a microwave or a pan. He is a bit of an expert in prepackaged curries as he says he eats about 300 such curries a year.

Medoruma raised funds through crowdfunding and started developing the okara curry around January this year. He asked a factory in Miyazaki Prefecture to produce the curry, and he requested the Mikawaya tofu shop to provide him with okara that they would otherwise have discarded. He tried samples sent from the factory, seeking the best ingredients and the appropriate amount of water through trial and error.

At first, the curry was a little too spicy. Wanting children to eat his curry, too, he adjusted the spices. The result was a keema curry featuring a great balance of tasty flavors such as onions and minced pork with the sweetness of okara produced from Japan-grown soybeans.

Upon completing the curry, he let employees of the Mikawaya tofu shop try it ahead of its launch in August.

“I could never have imagined it would be such a great curry,” said the 29-year-old third-generation owner of the Mikawaya shop. “I am so glad we can use okara, which we had discarded until now.”

Medoruma says the taste is not the only attraction of prepackaged curries. Each curry has its own development story, too.

“I would like to make prepackaged curries using other discarded food and weave a narrative of solving the food waste problem,” he said.

The curry is available for ¥680 at the online shop Base, Mikawaya stores and other places.

Working to cut food waste

About 6 million tons of food is estimated to have been thrown away in fiscal 2018 in Japan. Many municipalities in Tokyo are working to promote how to make better use of food.

A contest to develop new recipes using discarded okara from a long-established tofu shop was held for the first time in June and July in Arakawa Ward. Twenty-seven restaurants and stores took part in the contest, and customers visited them and voted. There were a number of dishes such as croquettes and cheese cakes.

“The event provided a great opportunity for us to learn about the issue of food waste,” said an Arakawa Ward official involved in the event.

The city of Tama began sharing no-waste recipes that use up all ingredients on its website this year. The recipes include spaghetti dishes and pickled vegetables using discarded vegetable items such as cabbage cores and carrot skins. Some citizens reportedly gave the city feedback such as that they were easy to prepare and tasted good.